Rahman Uddin, 93, known as Commander Baba in his paternal village Sawal Dher, Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and in its suburb areas due to his active participation in Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) Tahreek (1929-1955) and later his ideological affiliation with the Awami National Party (ANP) for more than a half century.

The movement represented a non-violent struggle of civil disobedience against the British Empire and was an anti-colonial movement by the Pashtuns of NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) of British India. The campaigners whose number rose to millions in a short span of time ultimately demanded independence from the British rule and wanted to free the Pashtuns from British domination and the culture of violence.

Like a believer, he wanted to prove his loyalty to the founder of the movement, Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan (Bacha Khan) and his movement of non-violence. Till his last breath he was a committed soldier, great campaigner of his vision, and true lover of his philosophy of reforms, besides taking part in the resistance campaign against the British Raj.

The family of Commander Baba rendered sacrifices with an unwavering spirit while struggling for freedom against the colonial rule of the British Empire in the subcontinent. Yet he remained, like many other sons of the land, an unsung hero, an ignored worker, an unknown figure, especially in the power corridors and among the office bearers of the party.

The British responded to the mobilisation by putting the NWFP under Martial Law from August 1930 until the following January. The British countered with severe repression, which, at great sacrifice, often resulted in increased membership for the movement.

Commander Baba said Bacha Khan was the only political leader who remained steadfast even in locks-up for about 35 years as a political prisoner – the time is enough for a child to grow-up and get married and have kids. While sharing his childhood memories, the commander said, “The British army targeted and tortured us several times before the partition as the members of the Khidmatgar Tahreek. Once the British soldiers entered our house and mixed up all the edibles with mud and ashes for making it unfit for eating.”

The problem with the NWFP was that the Frontier Crimes Regulation established repressive laws that aimed to destroy anti-government activities. The police force in the region was allowed to destroy buildings and inflict collective punishment, which punished entire families and villages for the crimes of one individual. The police force also inhibited the people’s right to assemble. The ruthless laws of that specific colonial period are even still in practice in tribal areas of the country.

Commander Baba recounted once that, “We didn’t get this country for free, we suffered, sacrificed, were tortured, and targeted at the hands of colonisers,” adding that “I know the real worth of freedom and what it means to be free.”

Rahman Uddin Baba adhered to the philosophy of non-violence and served selflessly the right and just cause of the party throughout his life. He actively took part in political gatherings of the party, delivered speeches, and met the founder several times as a political worker. Even after partition, as true soldier of Bacha Khan, he remained vocal about the constitutional rights of the Pashtuns at different forums.

Commander Baba, till the end, used to wear a red cap and clothes with great zeal and zest while participating in political gatherings of the party. He rejected almost all offers from the opponent parties and remained a staunch believer of the reforms introduced by the Great Khan.

The multidimensional aspects of his personality cover an entire canvas of being a social activist, reformer, humble person, man of principles, and a good human being who believed more in humanity, human dignity and non-violence.

He quoted Bacha Khan saying, “It was not that easy to stay in jail but for me it was easy because after all I stayed there for my people. I suffered more on the day when I came to know about the death of my mother from a piece of newspaper.”

However, Baba lamented the present leadership of the party, saying that the real workers, who worked, suffered, sacrificed, tortured, and raised slogans for the party had been ignored. Neither the leadership knows them nor are they willing to visit them when they were the only eye-witness of the ups and down of the party.

He was proud to remain committed to the philosophy of Bacha Khan who inspired thousands of Pashtun volunteers for the Tehreek and said that “I believe that I played my role to remain strictly adhered to the vision of Great Khan without any worldly reward.”

 

The author is a journalist based in Islamabad.